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    • Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 20, 2019
      This post is by Tony Wikrent I have been looking at the work of Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett, who is serving as an economics adviser to Representative Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. I have been delighted to find that Hockett has been working the same angle I have: applying the classical republicanism that informed the creation of […]
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DailyKos: Conversion and Conformity

ccv3h71w8aasjtlPeter Daou wrote about Markos Moulitsos, founder of DailyKos, and his announcement that he will be shifting his support to Hillary as soon as the nomination is wrapped up. Sorry, Bernie fans, time to get in line.

Atrios yesterday wrote that he doubted that one person’s “Why I am Voting for So&So diary” is worth anything. I was happy to see Atrios embrace the idea that your vote is your own but I think he’s dead wrong about the value of the conversion diary. Maybe they’re not as powerful as they used to be but I saw DailyKos lose its collective mind and then get in line twice in 2007-2008. First, it went bat s^&* crazy over John Edwards, then when Edwards became non-viable, it became moonstruck over Obama.

During the infamous Rec List Hostage Crisis of 2008, the pivot from Edwards to Obama was incredibly smooth. I could almost swear that the same people were writing those diaries.

The value of the testimonial can not be underestimated. Maybe we should get John Dehlin, psychologist, former Mormon and host of Mormon Stories to come and explain how it works. The conversion or testimonial is particularly effective in groups that are also exercising other high control tactics, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

A typical conversion story relates how a person is transformed by a moment of revelation. They become “born again” in some important way. People who study high control groups might say the convert’s  behavior has been unduly influenced by informational, emotional and thought control. Go ahead, read about the BITE model and you’ll never see DailyKos in the same way again.

That’s why I think Markos’s conversion story looks like it might not be important to those of us who have figured out how he operates even if it eventually does. His life is only going to change if his revelation leads to more advertising revenue from the Clinton campaign. Deep down inside, I doubt that Markos is wed to any one particular candidate. If anything, he seems to swing Libertarian and attracts the same guys who are stuck in adolescence who aren’t going to let any woman be the boss of them. It’s his business model.

Also, the conversion story does not work in the absence of other features. There has to be praise of the convert. In many religions and high control groups, this would include love bombing. At DailyKos, love bombing is accomplished through the use of recommendations. If a diarist gets enough recommends, their diary can make it to the recommended diary list where its prominence will influence other Kossacks.

The more you toe the founder’s line, the more mojo you get. That is, your level of  authority, at DailyKos increases and you can achieve Trusted User status. A trusted user has very few privileges and while Kossacks are told they don’t mean much, they actually do. A Trusted user can demote recommendations. They are enforcers. A mob of enforcers can deplete a Kossack’s mojo completely. If you don’t stay with the herd, you can be excommunicated and banned from the site.

This is what happened to me in January 2008 when I used the word “jihad” to explain how Obama supporters were mobbing other candidate’s supporters on DailyKos in order to get them banned. In the span of a couple hours, I went from being a trusted user to an exile. I was on to them by the time I posted that diary and while my diary was not meant to get me banned, I watched in fascination how efficiently and quickly the process worked.  I guess to someone who likes to be one of a crowd, that might have been devastating and I saw other Kossacks try very hard to not it happen to them. But for me? It was no big deal. What I learned at DailyKos was that I could write well enough to make the rec list fairly frequently. So, I left and started The Confluence. I didn’t get the fame or the ad money but I’ve enjoyed it anyway.

Those of you who still visit DailyKos can correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. Some of the rules of the game have changed since I was there last. The parameters of the model can be tweaked to keep everyone in line. But Markos knows what he’s doing and he set up his site to enforce conformity and a single message. Yes, there is a bit of wiggle room there. It’s like the difference between being a Methodist and a Presbyterian but it’s still Christianity. And when Markos signs the contract or gives the nod of the head, the machine works of his site will kick into gear and everyone will fall in line, write conversion diaries and disfellowship the apostates.

It’s conformity on a grand blog scale.

Maybe it doesn’t mean as much as it did 8 years ago. But Markos still attracts a lot of the same kind of people. They talk amongst themselves, reminisce about when they had their revelation and swallow their disappointments on queue when their leader gets “new light”.  And when it came time to throw away rules, disenfranchise voters and abbreviate roll call votes in Denver, the Kossacks were enthusiastic supporters of all things not very Democratic. We ended up with an establishment president who is more conservative than just about anyone on DailyKos but by golly, they won, didn’t they? So what if they ripped their party in two in the meantime?

They have a lot in common with Trump supporters.

Yes, conversion diaries, especially many of them, written with the blessing and encouragement and sometimes the coding skills and public megaphone of the founder, can and do make a difference. It simply is what it is, regardless of what Atrios says.

 

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